Malen doubles up as Dutch beat Romania to reach Euros quarters

Published July 3, 2024
MUNICH: Cody Gakpo (R) of the Netherlands shoots to score against Romania during their Euro 2024 round-of-16 match at the Munich Football Arena on Tuesday.—AFP
MUNICH: Cody Gakpo (R) of the Netherlands shoots to score against Romania during their Euro 2024 round-of-16 match at the Munich Football Arena on Tuesday.—AFP

MUNICH: The Netherlands swept into their first European Championship quarter-final since 2008 as Donyell Malen scored twice in a 3-0 win over Romania in the last 16 on Tuesday.

Cody Gakpo gave the Dutch an early lead but they were unable to convert pressure into a crucial second goal until the Liverpool forward set up Malen with seven minutes remaining in Munich.

Romania were gritty but out-classed, lacking the quality to punish their opponents’ profligacy before Malen added his second on the counter in stoppage-time.

The victory put the Oranje on course for a quarter-final clash with Turkey or Austria, who beat the Netherlands in 3-2 in the group stage.

Ronald Koeman’s side will need to improve their effectiveness in front of goal should they wish to emulate their manager, who was a player for the Dutch when they won the 1988 Euros on German soil.

Prior to the game, Netherlands’ captain Virgil van Dijk said his side lacked energy and the “will to win” in the loss to Austria.

 FRANKFURT: Portugal’s captain Cristiano Ronaldo (L) and goalkeeper Diogo Costa celebrate their round-of-16 win against Slovenia at the Frankfurt Arena.—AFP
FRANKFURT: Portugal’s captain Cristiano Ronaldo (L) and goalkeeper Diogo Costa celebrate their round-of-16 win against Slovenia at the Frankfurt Arena.—AFP

But the Dutch were still strangely flat in the early stages despite Van Dijk’s rallying cry.

Group ‘E’ winners Romania, whose 3-0 victory over Ukraine in their opening game, was just their second-ever win in the Euros, pinned the Dutch back early.

Romania went close when Dennis Man latched onto a superb diagonal ball from Nicolae Stanciu, but the Parma winger blasted over.

The Dutch broke Romania’s momentum shortly after when Gakpo got on the end of a sweeping move to open the scoring on 20 minutes.

Jerdy Schouten sliced a perfect, long pass through the midfield to Xavi Simons, who found Gakpo on the left flank.

Gakpo eluded Andrei Ratiu and seemed to catch goalkeeper Florin Nita off-guard, blasting in at the near post.

The goal ignited a period of Dutch dominance, Stefan de Vrij heading inches wide five minutes later.

The Netherlands wasted a perfect chance to double their lead with half-time approaching when Denzel Dumfries picked Bogdan Racovitan’s pocket and found Simons, who got tangled up and failed to get a decent shot away.

Koeman’s team squandered an array of opportunities early in the second-half.

Memphis Depay and van Dijk went agonisingly close before Gakpo’s second was ruled out by VAR for offside.

With every missed chance, the nerves in the Dutch camp seemed to grow, but Romania lacked the quality to truly punish them.

Gakpo, the most impressive man in orange, took matters into his own hands with seven minutes remaining, dribbling through a crowded penalty area and finding Malen who tapped home.

With Romania launching a final attack, Malen broke through on the counter and slid the ball into the goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time to seal the victory.

Portugal advance

In Monday’s late match, goalkeeper Diogo Costa saved all three penalties as Portugal won 3-0 in a shootout against a brave Slovenia side who had held them to a 0-0 draw after Cristiano Ronaldo’s extra-time miss from the spot in a dramatic last-16 clash.

Portugal had the lion’s share of the chances but also their brilliant goalkeeper to thank for a one-on-one save from Slovenia striker Benjamin Sesko as they stumbled into a quarter-final meeting with France in Hamburg on Friday.

Costa also saved from Josip Ilicic, Jure Balkovec and Benjamin Verbic in the shootout — the first keeper to save three penalties in a Euros shootout — to send his side through despite a team performance that lacked spark for the most part.

“This is probably the best game of my life,” Costa said. “I focused on doing what I had to do. I went with my gut feeling. Of course, we had analysed the penalty takers, but players change how they shoot. I’m very happy and very excited to have helped the team.”

Ronaldo in particular will come under the spotlight as he wasted several opportunities to go with a penalty miss in extra time that left him in a flood of tears and needing to be consoled by team-mates.

“Even the strongest people have their (bad) days. I was at rock bottom […] when the team needed me the most,” Ronaldo said in a post-match interview before bursting into tears again.

“Sadness at the start is joy at the end. That’s what football is. Moments, inexplicable moments,” he said.

“I feel sad and happy at the same time. But the important thing is to enjoy it. The team did an extraordinary job.

“We fought right to the end and if you look at it, if you analyse the game, I think we deserved it because we had more authority.”

Slovenia go home having played out four draws in Germany, but having qualified for the knockout rounds of a major tournament for the first time in their history.

“Unfortunately, it did not work out for us. I’m lost for words, the atmosphere here is amazing and that’s what makes it that much more difficult,” Oblak said. “There’s nothing more to add. You see what happened in extra time, we had the opportunity to score, but we were probably missing a bit of luck.”

Published in Dawn, July 3rd, 2024

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